Every so often someone asks me how I started writing. I didn’t plan to be a writer. My dream was to be a ninth-grade English teacher at Notre Dame Academy my whole life. That school has become Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, and I haven’t spent one day teaching there. In fact, most of my life has been devoted to writing: first articles and talks, then books, then textbook series, then helping others publish their work. Mostly I must credit certain people (including God) for setting me on this unexpected career path and forming me as a writer.
The first person to encourage my writing was my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Mary John Francis. She explained that to prepare us for high school she would have us write a lot. Her history tests always included an essay, and she assigned “contracts” that involved writing. She kept one of mine for a long time, showing it to others and, as she wrote on the booklet, trying to imbue all it contained. After I graduated, she asked me to send her essays during the summer.
In the ninth grade I wrote an essay titled “The Hands Tell the Story.” My teacher, Sister Mary Laboure, worked with me until the story was worthy of being published in our school literary book. This was my first published article.
Fast forward several years. On a Sisters’ renewal, we wrote a reflection about our life. Sister Mary Dolora read mine and suggested submitting it for publication. The July 1981 issue of Review for Religious carried my article “The Joy No One Can Take from Us.” The writing bug bit me. At the time I was teaching at Regina High School. I would correct papers on Friday evening, create lesson plans on Saturday, and then get up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday in order to spend as much time as possible writing.
As a beginning author, I sent an article called “In Praise of Praise” to the Catholic Digest. When a response came, I eagerly opened the envelope. In it were my typed pages along with a letter from the editor, Henry Lexau. He wrote that he was sorry to reject my article, especially because his letter opener had sliced through my pages! Then he gave me valuable advice. He said that if I began with an anecdote and sprinkled more of them throughout the piece, he would look at it again. I did as he said, and this article became the first of several of mine that appeared in his publication.
Five months after “The Joy No One Can Take from Us” appeared, a thin, blue airmail letter arrived. It was from Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka, Bishop of Jos, Nigeria. His handwriting filled both sides. The bishop wrote that he made copies of my article for the Sisters in his diocese. He noted, “You seem to have the ability to put across things we know in an unusual and unforgettable way.” He also quoted St. Teresa of Kolkata: “Write, for if your writing should make anyone more aware of God and their neighbour, then you must write.” He said, “We look forward to more articles from you.” Now, more than forty years later, I looked up Bishop Ganaka. He died in 1999, and his process of beatification is underway. I thank God for having this Servant of God play a significant role in my life.
Before becoming general editor of the Christ Our Life religion series, I visited Fr. Francis Kelly, director of religious education at the NCEA in Washington, to get some direction. He invited me to speak at the next national convention. The thought petrified me; I had never spoken to a group before. All year I worked on my talk, “Twenty-Six Ways to Teach Scripture.” In one day it was over! But the Holy Spirit inspired me to preserve my ideas by putting them in a book. Gwen Costello, the editor of Religion Teacher’s Journal, had published my articles. She went to bat for me, and the publisher, Neil Kluepful, accepted my proposal and published my book, the first of more than ninety.
Along my writing journey, God has often shown me the way. I needed a title for my book in which our Blessed Mother speaks to the reader every day of the year. The title “Mary Calling” was not permitted by the publisher of the book “Jesus Calling.” First I appealed to my Facebook friends. Several of them suggested titles, but none of them appealed to me. One night as I was taking shower, the title “Heart to Heart with Mary” floated into my mind. I wasn’t sure I liked it. The following morning, the phone rang. It was my cousin Sharon in Massachusetts, a Buddhist. She said, “Kathy, what about “Heart to Heart with Mary?” And that is now the title of my yearly devotional, my most popular book.
• How have you found God’s hand guiding the course of your life?